Photo Illustration by Jeff Adamson
Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 | 6:38 p.m.
When Henderson newcomer Kathleen Bruening clicked on David Letterman’s website Monday night searching for news about this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
The 2012 Swimsuit Issue cover, unveiled on "Late Show With David Letterman," featured Kate Upton wearing a red bikini that was designed by Bruening, a 23-year-old Hawaii native who moved to the valley last year.
“This was an April Fool’s joke or something,” Bruening had said in disbelief. “That can’t be the right cover.”
Bruening was on a long-distance phone call to Hawaii with her mother, Sheila, when she saw the cover. Both Bruening and her mom started crying when they realized it was no joke at all.
“This bathing suit, I made out of two days of sleep deprivation,” Bruening said. “It wanted to be the teenie-weenie, itsy-bitsy red bikini.”
This is the second year Bruening has sent bathing suits to be considered in the Swimsuit Issue. In 2011, one of her designs—a pink number with ruffles —made it into the issue. This year, Bruening sent 157 bathing suits to Sports Illustrated. Nine of them made it into the issue.
Designers are invited by Sports Illustrated to submit their swimsuits for consideration in the issue. Bruening found out through mentors and friends in the fashion industry how to go about submitting her pieces. Selection of Bruening’s pink suit in 2011 ensured an invitation to submit suits for consideration this year.
Designers are given deadlines for submitting into different swimwear categories like neon, animal print and red suits.
“Sports Illustrated is like the Oscars of swimwear,” Bruening’s mother said.
Once the 2012 issue hit the Internet, Bruening’s website — Suit Yourself Bikinis by Kathleen Bruening — was flooded with orders.
Her now-famous two-piece red bikini, dubbed “The Kate Upton 2012,” sells for $250 custom-made or $180 off the rack. Other Bruening-designed swimsuits generally range in price from $180 to $300, but she said she had sold extravagant custom suits for as much as $600.
Bruening started her web-based custom bathing suit business in 2007 at age 17. Her suits feature elaborate hand beading, crystal work and a center-back seam.
“Guarantees a no-baggy butt,” Bruening said.
Bruening can spend upwards of 36 hours on a single bathing suit, depending on how much detail is required. For the suits she submitted this year to Sports Illustrated, Bruening said she worked 16- to 20-hour days, seven days a week, for four months.
“I think she was stressing out a lot,” her mother said. “There’s only so much she can do by hand.”
Bruening started sewing at age 3 and was partially self-taught. As a child, she would save her allowance to buy fabric to sew outfits together for her Barbie dolls. Later she learned from an instructor who taught sewing classes on Maui.
“She’s not your normal 23-year-old going out to clubs every night,” Bruening’s mother said. “She’s been very focused.”
Looking to grow her brand and network with fashion industry professionals, Bruening picked Las Vegas for its networking opportunities and the Vegas pool scene.
“Coming from a small island, we don’t have connections,” she said.
Bruening moved to Henderson in April 2011 and set up her studio in a room on the second floor of her apartment.
Her cat, Sir Oscar Six-Foot, and her dog, Ginger, inspire her as does the fabric she uses.
Bruening says she often will sit in the middle of her living room surrounded by piles of fabric to decide what she’ll design next.
Since the Swimsuit Issue has been released, Bruening aspires to take her brand both national and international.
“As my mom said, it’s your 60-foot tsunami wave, you only get it once in your life,” Bruening said. “You can either ride it all the way to shore or jump off and die. Gotta love mom’s poetry.”